Chip MacGregor

August 3, 2015

What do you want to "Ask an Agent"?


This month I’m going to try and answer a bunch of publishing questions sent in by readers — some of them general, some very specific. If you’ve got a question, I’d love to hear from you. Here are some of the questions that have come in to the blog recently…

Do you think it would be a good career move for an author to have her debut novel published as an ebook only? I’ve been offered an “ebook first” contract with a larger house, and I’m feeling a bit unsure about it.

It could be worthwhile. It can get you in the door, and introduce you to the people at the publishing house. I’d suggest you ask the publisher what they are going to do to help you with your book. Will they edit it? Will they spend money on a good cover? Will they actively sell it? Will they market it at all, or leave all the marketing to the author? If the answer is basically “we’re not going to do much of anything,” then you have to ask yourself if you’d be better off self-publishing and keeping all the money. But if the publisher is going to improve your book, invest in solid editing and a cover, do something on the marketing side, and help you move some copies, it could be a decent introduction to the publishing world. Again, there’s no “one right answer” to these types of questions — it depends on the writer, the publisher, and the story. But what you’re proposing can certainly be a viable option, assuming the publisher is going to do some work. (And, if you’re not great at reading between the lines, that means there are some publishers who don’t edit, don’t spend money on covers, don’t do any marketing, and don’t help you sell copies… which means you’re probably better off indie-publishing.)

I’ve been wondering why an agent who might otherwise reject a query via email would bother to take the next step when approached at a conference? The pitch is the same, the writing sample is the same, the platform (or lack thereof) is the same. All that’s different is that the author paid money to show up in person. Is it because (1) it shows the writer is serious about this, having come to a conference and signed up to see you, or (2) it allows you to have a few minutes and figure out the person isn’t a wacko, or (3) it gives you the time to talk about the proposal, rather than just take a quick look?

All of those are good reasons. But more than anything, I’ll look at a proposal at a conference because that’s what I’ve agreed to do – interact with authors at the conference. If I see something that interests me, I’m much more apt to pay attention to someone I’ve actually met and had a discussion with than I am to someone I’ve never met. But sure — it’s always nice to know this person isn’t a wacko. Um.. are YOU a wacko?

You never seem to talk much about spec fiction, but the fantasy genre has blossomed, and it seems like there’s been an explosion of dystopian stories over the past few years. Do you think the adult fantasy genre will grow among CBA readers due to the popularity of so many YA fantasy novels? 

I don’t have much to say about spec fiction because I represent very little spec or fantasy — it’s just not been my area of focus. That said, I think we could see some superhero and spec fiction stories grow in CBA fiction, but I don’t know that the genre will ever be a dominant force in fiction. (Spec fiction has always been a bit player in the world of publishing, no matter how many Star Wars movies were produced.) I don’t know about the growth of fantasy among adult readers… maybe it will grow, since we’re always getting surprised by the twists and turns in publishing trends, and so many young people have found an escape in fantasy novels. But the shift we’re seeing at the moment in CBA is toward more true stories: humorous memoir, moving and transcendent true stories, perhaps graphic and disturbing books that use fiction technique to tell factual stories. Again, fiction is a tough place in CBA at the moment.

Now it’s your turn… If you’ve got a comment to make about any of the above questions, drop it in the comments section below. (I’d love to hear from some of the authors who have gone the e-first route, to see what you thought of the experience.) And if you’ve got a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, drop that in as well, or email it directly to me, and I’ll try to get to it this month. 

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  • Robin Pizzo says:

    Hi Chip, thank you so much for this opportunity. Forgive me for the backstory but its rare to get an opportunity like this with someone like yourself, a true guru in all things publishing. I have been writing my whole life, I even earned a degree in it, however it wasn’t until ten years ago that I decided to dive in the pursuit of writing professionally as a children’s author. I attended SCBWI gained some amazing insight and wonderful mentors. (Including the prolific Walter Dean Myers) and wrote and wrote. I never really sent anything out. Just trying to perfect a craft that in all honesty can never be perfected. This year with a tremendous amount of nudging from mentors, and honoring the divine purpose in my life I have committed to query. I have several completed manuscripts in PB, MG and YA. Many agents don’t rep all. Ok the question. Is it appropriate to query a variety of agents with the work that fits their list at the same time? For example, send the YA to an agent that reps YA while sending PB to agents that rep PBs. Thank you.

  • sherri says:

    What should be my next step with agents whom I met at a conference who asked me to send a proposal or a manuscript, and after doing so, I didn’t hear from them again (it’s been six months)?

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